116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
AMES — The Division I college landscape is in a state of flux, entropy, turmoil — insert fancy word meaning chaos here.
That didn’t change Wednesday.
Wednesday evening, a day after Oklahoma and Texas officially requested membership in the SEC, the Big 12 and commissioner Bob Bowlsby sent a cease and desist letter to ESPN.
In part the letter, first obtained by Sports Illustrated, Bowlsby said, “It has come to my direct attention that ESPN, the current business partner of the Big 12 Conference, has taken certain actions that are intended to not only harm the Big 12 Conference but to result in financial benefits for ESPN. Setting aside ESPN’s potential involvement in the recent announcement by the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma that they intend to leave the Big 12 Conference in 2025, I am aware that ESPN has also been actively engaged in discussions with at least one other conference regarding that conference inducing additional members of the Big 12 Conference to leave the Big 12 Conference.”
Long story short: Bowlsby said ESPN contacted other conferences to start reaching out to the remaining Big 12 schools to poach them and to get them to leave early.
The letter ended with another assertive comment.
“The Big 12 Conference demands that ESPN immediately cease and desist all actions that may harm the Conference and its members and that it not communicate with the Big 12 Conference’s existing members or any other NCAA Conference regarding the Big 12 Conference’s members, possible conference realignment or potential financial incentives or outcomes related to possible conference realignment,” it read.
“The Big 12 Conference reserves and will enforce all of its rights under the Grant of Rights Agreement and the Telecast Agreement to the full extent of the law and will not allow its business to be interfered with by its business partners or others.”
This sets the framework for lawyers to get involved and for lawsuits to be on the horizon if the Big 12 has reason to believe ESPN is trying to accelerate conference realignment, so it can get out of paying the Big 12 all or part of its TV money. What complicates things is ESPN is the Big 12’s primary media rights holder and it is the company responsible for much of the Big 12’s revenue.
“I have absolute certainty they (ESPN) have been involved in manipulating other conferences to go after our members,” Bowlsby said according to the Associated Press. “This whole thing has been a complete articulation of deception.”
ESPN released a short statement soon after the Big 12’s cease and desist that said in whole, “The claims in this letter have no merit.”
Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports reported that ESPN “conspired” with the American Athletic Conference to take three to five teams to the AAC. The Big 12 payout for the grant of rights is $38 million per school per year and the AAC’s payout is roughly $7 million.
Bowlsby told Sports Illustrated that he has documented evidence that ESPN tried to encourage an unnamed conference to add Big 12 members in an effort to further destabilize the league so Texas and Oklahoma could avoid exit fees.
“It is tortious interference,” Bowlsby told Sports Illustrated. “It causes me to further suspect that ESPN had their hands all over Texas and Oklahoma’s move to the SEC. They were as deceptive as you can possibly be.
"There are right and wrong ways to do things. They sought to deceive us from the very beginning.”